McALLEN – In the midst of the sweltering South Texas summer, a new high-intensity sport is heating up across the Rio Grande Valley.
Disc golf – a blend of ultimate frisbee and traditional golf – has been picking up steam across America in recent years, but has seen a dramatic spike in popularity across the Valley from Brownsville to Laredo during that span.
Thanks to a sharp rise in accessibility, a diverse pool of players and some exciting technological innovations over the past several years, disc golf – both regionally and nationally – has experienced a rapid growth rate lately unparalleled to many traditional team and individual sports.
“Well basically you have a tee pad, just like you do in golf, and the tee pad has listed how many feet it takes to get to the basket. You have to choose what disc you want to throw to make it get as close to the basket as possible,” said Daniel Mercado, an avid disc golfer and owner of the Valley Disc Golf Store in McAllen.
“They’re all designed differently. They have different flights, different flight patterns, different molds from putters to mid-range to drivers just like golf. You basically just maneuver the discs to make them do what you want to do. We see some crazy stuff out here.”
Mercado was first introduced to the sport several years ago and quickly took note of the game’s rising popularity, which led him to open the first and only disc golf store south of Corpus Christi. Business has been booming as of late, spurring the growth of the game even more locally.
The Valley Disc Golf Store celebrated its one year anniversary a week ago with a competitive tournament in McAllen.
“A lot of these players probably got introduced (to disc golf) probably out of the Valley because we just started down here about five years ago,” Mercado said. “But (the sport) has been around since the 1960s.”
In that brief time frame of five or so years, the local disc golf community has taken off and the number of area courses has skyrocketed. Sergio Luna of San Juan – one of the co-founders of the RGV Disc Golf Club, which has grown to include hundreds of active members since its inception – witnessed the rapid transformation of the sport regionally after he first moved to the RGV.
“Five years ago there was only one disc golf course,” Luna said. “But just that number jumping five times in itself is really good.”
Currently, there are six disc golf courses scattered throughout the Valley along with a few smaller neighborhood courses that the group doesn’t include in that total.
The oldest and longest-lasting course in the RGV is Dixieland Disc Golf Course in Harlingen, which has been around since 1999 according to dgcoursereview.com. However, a recent explosion in numbers has led to newer courses springing up throughout the area.
There’s Monte Bello (a windy 21-hole course in Brownsville), the nine-hole course at Freddy Gonzalez Park in Edinburg, and a pair in McAllen from the shorter open-air Daffodil Park course to the much longer and expansive Green Jay on the site of the former Palm View Golf Course.
The most recent addition to the RGV disc golf scene, however, is the Isaac D. Rodriguez DGC in Weslaco.
“We just went to the city and said ‘hey how about putting up a disc golf course?’ We told them about this park and they put up nine baskets,” Mercado said. “I’ve been playing ever since and never really put a disc down.”
“Nobody really introduced me. I was just driving by one day and I saw the baskets, so that’s when I met everybody else,” said Justin Hinojosa, a three-year veteran of the RGV Disc Golf Club and a current board member. “That’s usually how it gets around: word of mouth.”
That word-of-mouth growth model has helped carry the club to new heights in recent years, as more and more players pick up discs each month.
“People will walk up to the park with their kids and they’ll stop and say, ‘What is this? What are those?’ They think that they’re trash cans and basically we explain it to them and how it works and not even a few days later, you’ll see them out here with some discs,” Mercado said. “We all give out discs to a lot of kids who are just starting to use them. We’ll hand them out to everybody and just say ‘hey, have fun.’”
Hinojosa and Luna, like many of the club’s members, were converted to disc golf after becoming avid ball golfers. But each of the men cites several different reasons why they now prefer the disc alternative, namely cost and accessibility.
“One of the reasons why we think disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports because of the affordability of it,” Luna said. “You just need a couple of discs, as compared with normal ball golf where you have to buy your own clubs and pay a course fee. All the (disc golf) courses in the RGV are free to play and all you need is a couple of discs.”
“A lot of people look at it as a workout type deal. If you play a round of all 18 holes at the Green Jay Course, I think they marked it at three miles. It’s probably further but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re playing,” Hinojosa said. “By the time you’re done you’ve burned 1,500 or 2,000 calories. I think it’s a healthier alternative to ball golf being that you don’t have carts and you’re walking.
“I played ball golf for about four years, but as soon as I started playing disc golf I dropped ball golf as fast as I picked it up.You progress at it faster than ball golf. It’s easier to pick up the form and seeing the disc fly kinda makes you want to throw it further.”
The other major advantage for disc golf over its traditional predecessor: truly anyone can play. Men, women, children and retirees all play regularly in the RGV, and the low barriers to entry makes it an easy learning curve for anyone who wants to get involved.
“Our motto is grow the sport. We’re always very open to new players,” Luna said. “You don’t need a strong arm to throw the disc very far, it’s all about the technique. That balances out the players a lot and that’s where you get a lot of everybody here. It’s pretty diverse.”
Recent technological innovations have helped the sport reach more eyeballs in recent years as well. YouTube has helped expose thousands of new players across the country to the game’s premier talents and the top professional events.
Furthermore, new apps like UDisc that have sprung up in the past several years have made playing a round more convenient than ever before. UDisc allows players to find nearby courses, track your shots and even shows aerial shots of every hole.
The future goals for the RGV Disc Golf Club, though, are straightforward: get the sport televised, expand it into local schools and continue to support growth throughout the region.
“Whenever I came down from Oregon, there was only one course in Harlingen,” Luna said. “You have options now. You can pick and choose what you want, and that’s given us motivation to make even more courses and get ones in different cities and have more options.”
The club has a pair of upcoming tournaments in the coming months: one on Aug. 3 at Monte Bello in Brownsville and its third annual Winter Classic tournament in December at the Green Jay course in McAllen.
To learn more about the RGV Disc Golf Club, visit its Facebook page by the same name or stop by one of the nearest courses and join the community.